Deep compassion and irresistible deadpan humor (and characters with odd–and oddly appealing–faces) are hallmarks of the great Finnish filmmaker, Aki Kaurismäki’s work. (His films also have many canine co-stars–Tähti, Laika, Paju–all perfectly cast.)
Six of his best films, all 35mm prints, will screen in a one-week mini retrospective, “Aki Kaurismäki,” at Film Forum, preceding the US theatrical premiere of his first film in six years, “The Other Side of Hope,” which will also be presented in 35mm.
In “The Man Without a Past” (2002), an outsider, newly arrived in Helsinki, gets mugged, loses his memory and must deal with a suddenly unknown life. Film critic J. Hoberman said, “Kaurismaki’s temperament may be sweeter than Fassbinder’s but his mode of address is no less cool.”
Shot in glowing black and white, “La Vie de Bohème” (1994), a playful take on Henri Murger’s “Scenes de La Vie de Bohème,” follows a painter, a poet and a composer on the streets of Paris. In the New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote, “Here is a fine, deceptively querulous comedy that mocks the conventions of art and romantic love while, at the same time, exalting them as the only means of salvation. Make no mistake about it: Mr. Kaurismäki is an original…”
“Ariel” (1988), which established Kaurismäki’s international reputation, tells the story of Taisto (Turo Pajala), a coal miner trying to escape a provincial life of inertia and economic freefall, who starts a “minor-key romance with a hilariously dispassionate meter maid (Susanna Haavisto).”
A bohemian shoeshiner, played by André Wilms, reprising his role from “La Vie de Bohème,” Kaurismäki favorite Kati Outinen, and a community of French characters join forces to shield a young African migrant from the authorities. “Le Havre” (2011) looks at the refugee crisis with hope for a better world.
The mini festival also includes “Lights in the Dusk” (2006) and “The Match Factory Girl” (1990), which will be shown with a music video featuring the pointy-booted, pompadoured Leningrad Cowboys (“the world’s worst rock and roll band”).
“The Other Side of Hope,” won the Silver Bear for Best Director at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival. The film screened at NYFF5 and in September I wrote:
“The Other Side of Hope,” a tragicomedy about the migrant crisis, watches two men in Helsinki. One, Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen), creates a new life while remaining nearly in place, leaving his wife, and trading his business wholesaling shirts for a restaurant. The other, Khlaed (Sherwan Haji), leaves Aleppo after his family is killed, and after a long and dangerous journey arrives in Finland in the belly of ship carrying coal. Where their lives intersect enriches the story with real elements of compassion and hope.
“Aki Kaurismäki” opens today at Film Forum and runs through Thursday, November 30. “The Other Side of Hope” opens on Friday, December 1 for an ongoing engagement. The film also opens at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater and Francesca Beale Theater, and runs through Thursday, December 7.